Phil Bilbrough: Priceless Ideas

Priceless Ideas

By Phil Bilbrough

Where should you take a good idea? When should you let it go?

Years ago I took the first of one of many creative writing courses. The tutor was Sue McCauley (writer of the Other Halves) and she was great and cool. I can’t remember much about the course except (and please don’t quote me quoting her), “Know what your characters did”, and “You don’t get so many ideas when you get older.”

Ideas are key. I watched a Business Management doco that included a piece on Aristotle Onassis. He understood the value of a good idea (marry a President’s wife, break an international embargo etc..). My recollection from this piece is that he didn’t have an office, he just made decisions wherever he was, whenever he needed to, and he wrote all his ideas, thoughts and contacts in a little book. So the office and computer and latest software still only help you collate your ideas and implement your decisions. What freedom Onassis had. No email, RSS feeds or Twitter or chat to monitor.

Another doco that took my interest was about even deader Greeks (Aristotle was born in Turkey, which screws my Greek thing). It discussed how some of the great thinkers had time to think because they had slaves to do the dishes and fold the laundry. No Internet or TV to procrastinate in front of – just the occasional (twice yearly) war. So those Greek lords (Plato, Archimedes, Euclid, Aristotle, Socrates, and the funky sounding, Xenophon) sat, ate, wrote and talked – it does sound like Twitter – and discussed their thinking. Freedom for them at the expense of the incarceration of the slaves. I’m sure that they valued new ideas – thoughts that light up a moment.

Sometimes those ideas are so great, so powerful, make so much sense that they have to happen. In advertising they might be, “We’re No. 2, so we try harder”, or “Just do it”, or “Finger lickin’ good” or   “Because I’m worth it”, “Let your fingers do the walking” and “Mastercard. Priceless.”

Yet a great idea has moment. The power of the idea is self evident and people rise behind and make it happen in its best form. It is happy collision of a great idea, the manner in which it is delivered and the world that it is going into. Ten years ago Mastercard’s Priceless campaign was just this. How long can Mastercard keep successfully reprising this idea? Well the CFO of Mastercard would say, “As long as its doing the business.”

The latest Mastercard campaign is good. By itself it might have been quite good but it feels like another reinvention of the “priceless” idea. Ten years ago the small charges built to the Priceless Moment. Now it is, not knowing what goes into a moment makes it priceless. I don’t think that that is true. In fact I would speculate that it is the opposite. Is it that some people find any bit of hassle regardless of how priceless the outcome might be – too much? Now Mastercard takes the thinking and effort away and puts in front of you aspirational and special off the track ideas for you to book and go straight to.

I think the story of a rock being shot off a mountain by a meteor then carried down by a river and a glacier to a lake shore to be skimmed by a Dad in front of his son has more personality than the campaign’s website which gives you a selection of travel destinations (and interesting ones).

I am nostalgic for the warmth of the old Mastercard campaigns. Ending up in a pub with my Dad (it was a Mum in the old campaign) and his cronies laughing/cringing at their diabolical stories would be one of my priceless moments.

My other priceless moment would be, 1. Someone looking after my kids and parenting them better than I do, 2. Get me and my partner to Aurora Borealis 3. Make sure that we are warm and look cool 4. Make sure that I can take good photos 5. Pop us into Egypt’s Pyramids on the way home (to warm up) 6. Come back to healthy well educated socially independent successful children, And 7. I have some money left.

Why didn’t Mastercard ask us what our priceless moments might be?

It must be hard to let go of a good idea. New ones don’t pop up when and where we need them. They usually pop-up way after we needed them. So if no new idea is bursting out of you or your agencies then one strategy is to stretch out that great idea one more time.

Just maybe Mastercard have run that tyre to its rim now. Once sensational, now it’s good. Time for them to get some slaves, put on some white sheets, grow lots of facial hair, eat grapes and figs, ditch the office, get a little book and start musing on the next priceless idea.


Phil Bilbrough is a freelance online advertising specialist who is blogging on the subject for Scoop at He can be contacted at

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